Le current mood - whoa! Thumping!

31/12/2007

Le current mood - annoyed

30/12/2007

Sources of annoyance include a skin eruption on my chin that makes Mount Vesuvius pale in comparison (in spite of some very fancy-schmancy new skincare products by some South African skin guru who worked with Christian Barnard), the need for a mani-pedi, a haircut, some relief for my persistent throat ache, some time to do some invoicing, some good TV (it's the year end for Chrissakes), etc.

I'd like to say something more profound, such as, the state of the world bothers me, etc. but tonight I am just in a shallow mood. No apologizing. Nah.

On the upside, we had some lovely pancakes this afternoon at a charming old place, and I got to sit next to the open fire.

We've spent a lot of time at the Antwerp Winterfoor, a nostalgic carnival, with 1930's rides, which the munchkin enjoys.

We're eating healthily (if you exclude the pancakes and syrup and hot cocoa with cream), even though it may resemble prison gruel at times.

I'm reading Charlotte Moseley's edition of the letters of all six of the Mitford Sisters.

A whole New Year is just around the corner.

sunday night quick fix - macrobiotic prison gruel

Risotto with zucchini and cashews

Peel and slice/dice
1 large onion
2 celery stalks
1 zucchini (you can leave the peel on this one if you wish)

Chop a handful of flat-leaf parsley

Ground some coriander in a mortar and pestle

Heat up 500-1 l of vegetable stock

Heat some oil and butter in a large saucepan
Add the celery and onion
Make sure it doesn't catch, while cooking for 5 mins.

Add some carnaroli rice
Add the zucchini

Start ladling in the stock, and stir... and keep stirring while you add ladle after ladle of stock.

Towards the end, when the rice is 'al dente', drop 150 g of cashews in a pan, and heat them (make sure they aren't burnt), until the oil in the nuts is released. Remove from hob.

Add the coriander and the cashews to the risotto when the rice is to your liking. Stir and add salt and pepper if needed.

Spoon into bowls, adding some parsley.

Et voilà, you have tonight's healthy dinner following the Temple Food approach. Be nice to your body, feed it all the good nutrients, and treat it with love.

New Year's Day - the prequel

29/12/2007

Following the whole Christmas Day hullabuloo, my charming sister, now known as the Christmas terrorist, as she manages to hijack every Christmas, has decided not to join us for lunch or anything else. The less, the merrier, is my feeling, or does that seem too cruel?

The old adage, you can choose your friends, not your relatives, rings sooooo true.

oh she was gorgeous - Penelope Keith

28/12/2007

Words completely fail me when it comes to this woman. I am and have been in love with Penelope Keith since 1979 when she first graced my parent's ridiculously large Grundig TV screen in To the Manor Born.
And now the BBC were kind enough to give us a Christmas special this year. Oh the bliss, oh the ecstasy of it all.



I never was able to figure out whether I preferred Audrey fforbes-Hamilton DeVere or Margo Leadbetter née Sturgess (from The Good Life, another BBC hit series with Paul Eddington of Yes, Minister fame).

My levels of Anglophilia are rising to new heights every day... I am pathetic, but non-apologetic.

And by the way, don't you all think that Marjorie Frobisher is a real fox for being 68???

Christmas - the sequel

27/12/2007


Christmas was uneventful, barring my sister's meltdown during dessert and accusations flying about me being the new Nigella (and knowing no limits when it came to food). Pretty rich coming from a gastric bypass patient, who until recently, knew no limits herself.
The fireworks were set off by my extra dollop of double cream on the apple crumble. Tcha.

Attached a photo of the beast before it hit the oven for several hours.

The menu:
Prosecco with a splash of pomegranate

Gravad lax with blinis and sour cream
Olives
Fried cashews with chillis
Parma ham bundles with goat's cheese and figs

Turkey prepped with pancetta and rosemary
Stuffing of pancetta, dates, sausage meat, sage
Oven potatoes baked in goose fat
Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, marsala, and pancetta (yes, we love this particular type of Italian meat)
Brussels endives (for our Belgian link)
Apples with cranberries
Cranberry sauce

Apple crumble

Marcolini chocolates + coffee

wines: 2006 Hermitage (viognier grape) and a 2005 Côtes du Rhône

Needless to say that we are no longer interested in food for a few weeks.

Benazir Bhutto


Here's a photo of Benazir Bhutto during her visit to Brussels in 2000.
Today Mrs Bhutto lies dead in a hospital morgue after some militant decided to shoot her and then blow himself up.
First, let me say that I cannot understand suicide bombers' motives. The idea of unlimited sex with 72 virgins in heaven? As usual, not very woman-friendly, in the sense that 72 poor virgins are to be ravished by an exultant man, as he opens the gates to heaven... And I have to wonder, how someone who murders, is given the right to heaven's door? But that's just my old infidel self speaking up.

I'm not too familiar with Bhutto's politics, but I admired the fact that she was the first woman PM of a muslim state after a life of hardship (including five years under house arrest and the hanging of her father).

When I read that the UN Security Council 'unanimously condemned' the attack on Bhutto, I found myself wondering, like my SO, what the world has come to. Pakistan is in complete disarray, and the world, as usual, just stands there and looks on. No reaction. Dictatorship thrives. Oh well.

oh she was gorgeous - Emma Thompson

22/12/2007


It's the weekend once again and I find myself craving an Emma Thompson movie. I don't know what it is about this woman, I just can't put my finger on it, but there's something inordinately sexy about her. From the moment she first burst onto my retina, in the Tall Guy (with Jeff Goldblum, if memory serves me well) to subsequent movies such as Peter's Friends, the Remains of the Day, Sense & Sensibility (for which she wrote the script as well as acting the role of Elinor)... then there was her pole dancing with Ellen, Nanny McPhee, Dolores Trelawney (in the Potter movies), Angels in America (where she got to kiss Meryl Streep)... Needless to say I like watching movies with the great Emma...

But what makes her so interesting? I just can't tell you. Except maybe, if you look at Love Actually, where her character listens to a Joni Mitchell song of the CD that she received from her husband, who is two-timing her... She simply stands in her bedroom, next to the marital bed, listening, as her world falls apart, picks herself up, smoothes out her skirt. And in that precise gesture lies the genius of Ms. Thompson... It's that unique blend of down-to-earthness and her ability to portray characters who are shaken by deep, inner conflicts.

And what better way to start 2008 than in the knowledge that she will be Lady Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited... That and the fact that she's also a friend of Stephen Fry... Oh, and, unconfirmed as yet, the filming is to take place at Chatsworth, the homestead of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire aka Debo Mitford. I love it when things come together like the pieces in a puzzle.

'tis the season to be jolly - but not in Belgium, we're code red!


Look at all the shiny, happy people in this photo*. Incredibly enough, our Kingy has sworn in a new government this morning. Wonders will never cease. You would think that this would be cause for joy, but nothing less is true.

Incredibly enough, Belgium is 'on edge' after a thwarted Al-Qaeda jail break... which could have led to a possible terrorist attack... Are you also laughing at all the potentials in that last phrase? Cos I am.

Fourteen suspected Islamic militants were arrested this morning. Apparently they had been planning an armed attack to free the convicted Al Qaeda member, Nizar Trabelsi, a former Tunisian footballer, who is suspected of plotting attacks on US targets in Belgium (specifically an airbase in Belgium thought to house US arms). Now all of this has never been confirmed, mind.

Anyway, our threat level for the Yule period has been raised to critical on the premise that if these people managed to acquire the necessary heavy-duty arms to free a suspected terrorist, they could also plan a terrorist attack. Police is now swarming the streets, Christmas markets, airports, stations etc. and the public is asked to be vigilant (not vigilante, we're too busy living up to our reputation of being bons vivants in this country and spending money on Christmas gifts). SO is already grumbling, as she's in charge of the turkey but she's also on call on Christmas day, meaning that if something happens she will have to be outta here at cruising speed, leaving me with an uncooked three-course turkey dinner and hungry relatives on my hands.... Ack.

On a brighter note, I broke my Christmas shopping record this year. As always, I wait until the last three or four days to do ALL my shopping. I managed to find 75% of all my gifts in one hour flat. I could have managed 80% were it not for the barista who was preparing my frapp' yacking on her mobile.

So as we ready ourselves for the onslaught of Christmas, we look forward to two weeks of relative peace and quiet, as you can see. The munchkin is tired from a whole term at school and it's beginning to show. Lots of long sleeps, low immunity (ear infections are back, so a visit to the ear surgeon is in the works) and a slew of new words (such as stommerik or schtoopid). Lovely. SO is counting down the days to her surgery, which will result in improved health conditions for her. Even catso has a cold, prompting a visit from the vet and homeopathic remedies. I'm the last (wo)man standing!

* Photo courtesy of Thierry Roge - Reuters/Yahoo News. Belgium's King Albert II poses for a family photo with the members of the new government at the Laeken Palace in Brussels December 21, 2007.

Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue

19/12/2007

SCORE!!!

OMG, at last. After 192 days we have a government.
Well, sorta... à la belge, it is as usual a compromise.

Belgium's new intermediary government will be sworn in on Friday. Not the final government of course, because they have until March to negotiate that one.

Interestingly enough, this government is made up of winners and losers of the past election, and it is asymmetric (meaning the number of parties is not equal on either side of the language divide, as the Flemish socialists declared that they preferred to be in the opposition).

The new prime minister is the old prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt.

And the French liberals must be feeling extremely blue that the French-speaking socialists somehow managed to wheedle themselves into this government, in spite of considerable wrangling on everyone's behalf to keep them out of the coalition.

So where does the borrowed part come in? I think we could say that those are the French-speaking incontournable socialists, who were used as some kind of super glue to make this coalition work.

Enuff' said: time for some decision-making. And there are a lot of hasty decisions to make: before the end of the year an agreement has to be reached with GPs so that next year they cannot charge up exorbitant amounts for normal care... before Friday, Belgium has to request an exemption from a European Directive regarding the non-discrimination in insurance, or women's insurance rates of every type will soar through the roof... and the list goes on...
Nose to the grindstone dearies!

?

18/12/2007

Overload.

Silence.

Coming up gasping for air.

The tribute 'heard round the world'

17/12/2007


... “my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss"...

The perfect way of coming out without actually coming out per se.
As a full card-carrying lesbian, I felt I couldn't ignore this groundbreaking moment in 21st century LGBT history. Not that we didn't already know this, but still...

Photo courtesy storm_ns.

Oh she was gorgeous - Lillibet


Oh heck, all the white stuff on my tree was on my mind, when I saw this photo.
So I just chose to elect HM QE II, ER by the grace of God this week's piece of loveliness.

Webcam magic


Night light... everyone's in bed, even the cat.


Fallen angels in the Christmas tree


Old Lula herself

Everything was beautiful at the ballet...

14/12/2007

My old ballet company contacted me, on the pretext of celebrating a 20th anniversary, to organize a reunion of the first generation of dancers, as it were.
I contacted my former dance partner in crime, and both he and I agreed that it was a case of 'past our prime'. Neither of us felt any compunction to crawl back up on a stage and make a spectacle of ourselves.

Funny though, how dance still remains a part of my life. I try and catch performances time permitting, or simply enjoy it on tv. And since our munchkin has discovered the 'ballerientjes' on youtube, she has added another demand to her already long list of demands.

So now and then I search for interesting clips to show her (modern and classic dance alike). Today's search yielded this interesting clip. Or how senior citizens can still be astoundingly graceful... just like their toddler counterparts.



The clip was shot in Newcastle to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

The climate - a source of worry



In light of news today that the climate conference in Bali is heading for a big flop, I think we should reflect on the fact that the WMO (World Metereological Organization) announced today that the past decade has been the hottest ever since the beginning of meteorological observations.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century the average temperature has gone up by 0.74 degrees centigrade. Opponents will venture that the rise has not been constant. Others will counter that the rise has doubled in the five last years, compared the 100 previous years. Sea levels continue to rise, and ice continues to melt.

So what does it all mean? To be frank, I don't know. I'm not a scientist. But I do worry about the state of earth, especially the earth on which our children and their children will have to grow up and carve out a life for themselves. We are fortunate to be living in the west (and not in the African continent, say).

It is rather sad then that 27 European leaders flew out to Lisbon today to sign the new EU treaty... with their private planes, only to fly back to Brussels tonight to hold an EU summit there tomorrow... on climate change. Interestingly enough, the leaders of the Benelux countries (Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands) shared a plane.

So how do we go about minimizing our carbon and ecological footprint, if our leaders won't even set the example?




PS - the pic above is of the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lake in the east of Iceland. An unreal sight when you drive across the bridge... But I could have also put up a photo of Cape Cod and its eroding shores (something to which my SO can testify first-hand, as she sees the beach shrink, compared to the endless sand flats of her youth).

Probiotics again

13/12/2007

Blast and botheration. It is only the busiest time of the year for me as regards work... and our little mite has an intestinal virus. Which means, no school.
Auuugh! So much for sleeping during the next days. I've invoices to write out, and two horrific deadlines.

Thankfully, my SO will take time off so things are not as bad as they could potentially be.

And thanks for probiotics. Hopefully they kick in soon enough, because intestinal viruses, as we know from the past, can lead to hospital stays...

Nose to the grindstone, with a clothes peg firmly on it.

Christmas isn't quite complete without a row...

11/12/2007


Ah, what a heady cocktail. Gastric bypass, full option turkey, traditions, new customs, the search for recipes, celebrity chefs, hormonal SO, and myself, who is used to this drama, having lived with my family for the past 37 years...

Christmas, I love it. Such a perfect horror movie. All it requires is the perfect ensemble cast. I'm thinking Glenn Close in kill the bunny mode (I'm not gonna be ignored!!!), Rosanne post-Rosanne, myself as Mary Poppins, the brother-in-law who communicates in grunts, Catherine Tate's nan and my mother in eternal victim mode. Yup, it beats Home for the Holidays by a mile. Or two even.

All we need is a flying turkey leg as a prop. Dialling Martha as I write this.

To be continued...

--- I just told my SO to think of the following clip on Christmas day...

L'orange bleue est morte, vive l'orange bleue?

10/12/2007

Tomorrow will mark the 185th day since the elections without a government.

The coalition broker resigned on 1 December. The former PM, Guy Verhofstadt, has now been assigned the job of running the country (which he's been doing for the last six months anyway) and trying to put together a workable coalition. And frankly, that's all I can tell you because at this point I have no idea what's going on... I'm mystified, everyone is mystified.

Are we to have a government? Is there a coalition in the pipeline? Are they just revamping the previous coalition into something workable? Oh, wait, I get it, this is your typical Belgian compromise in the making...

I watch, eyes wide shut, and wait. This country's regions are on a major collision course, with every statement being used as an excuse to have a major flare-up.

Vaudeville at its best. Belgium as we've always known it. Business as usual.

Oh she was gorgeous - Marlene Dietrich

Vamp, vixen, vampire extraordinaire who managed to suck the life force out of the people who most loved her, as daughter Maria Riva and Svengali Josef von Sternberg will attest.

But still, how can we ever forget Shanghai Lily, the light catching her eyes and strawberry blonde hair, crowning her head like a halo, and that tremulous cigarette...

My first impression of Marlene Dietrich dates back all the way to 1983. Shanghai Express. I bought the autobiography (a cleaned up version of her life) one year later. And since then I have managed to pretty much see every one of her films. The biography by her daughter came as a bit of a surprise, as I discovered a cruel and calculating person. But many a goddess has toppled off her pedestal and Dietrich was no exception.

I leave you with the timeless quote from this movie: it took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.

You can take the girl out of the eighties...

09/12/2007

but you can't take the eighties out of the girl :-)
I'm sorry, I simply couldn't fight the urge...





* I should add that this is technically from 1990 but to me it closes a rather emblematic decade.

So Eighties!



Sig's post on 80s music reminded me of TV series that defined the 80s for me (well, this, Dynasty, Charlie's Angels and Wonder Woman, I see a pattern here).

Dallas, a show essentially built around the character of J.R., was a hoot! I spent many an evening as an impressionable pre-teen watching this show. Funny how people were fuzzier about what children could watch on TV in those days.

What all these shows have in common, was the slick glossiness of the women's characters. The Farrah flick, Wonder Woman's bright red lipstick (to match her mini corset and hotpants) and Alexis' shoulder pads (oh, and the desk with the elephant tusks for legs).

Such glamour, such drama. What a contrast with the grungy Nineties. I lapped it up, of course.

News flash: Damages!

07/12/2007

Great news! Damages starring Glenn Close is coming to BBC1 at the beginning of 2008. I don't usually tout TV shows, but this one is simply incredible. Every episode is a cliff-hanger, managing to put you on the wrong foot at the end!

Here's a little taste of the series:

Sinterklaas came and went...

06/12/2007


Where to start? Sinterklaas is the original Santa... before the big Red aka Coca-Cola claimed him.

On 6 December, we celebrate the patron saint of children, St Nicholas of Smyrna. The good saint is usually accompanied by Black Peter (very un-PC), and brings presents to all those children, who have been good in the past year.

Our munchkin was beside herself yesterday evening and even more so this morning when she found that the carrots, which she had left in her boots for Sinterklaas's horse had been eaten... and that presents had mysteriously appeared. This was of course followed by a magnificent meltdown of magnanimous proportions, due to the excitement.

And finally, this afternoon, she got to meet the good man himself, as he visited her classroom.

The things we parents have to contend with...

To have or to have not...



Interesting how something so insignificant and small can make such a difference in one's life. In July of 2003 we started down the road that would eventually lead us to the arrival of our munchkin. At the time, we had a discussion, our counselor at the AZVUB in Jette took down our physical characteristics and to some extent our desiderata and then a computer took over. We were matched to an anonymous sperm donor and six straws of his precious sperm were 'reserved' for us.

It is now exactly four years after the first (successful) insemination. Since then, there have been four more attempts at having a second child. One straw remains... and now also the question... to have or to have not.

The mind works in mysterious ways

05/12/2007

I was watching this video by Feist. The iPod song, I know, but I like it anyway.



Then I was reminded of this:



And then my brain served me this:



It's on days like this that you know that you definitely need another cup of STRONG coffee.

Wigner release?

04/12/2007

Amazing how some days a bunch of information will come together to inspire you to write up something.

This evening a small but significant news item caught my attention. The current deadlock on a government coalition is having a series of consequences: one of them is the fact that Belgians living near nuclear power plants are at present faced with the fact that the expiration date on their iodine pills is only a month away. Due to the fact that we do not have a government, the authorities cannot order new batches at present leaving them effectively unprotected until June of 2008.

My thoughts immediately turned to the polder village of Doel, approx. 10 km from where we live. The photo below was taken by my SO and is a perfect example of how industry (in this case the port of Antwerp) has encroached on agricultural life.



For some reason, the polder villages tend to exercise a huge draw on us. Many of them have disappeared, such as Wilmarsdonk. The steeple of its unhallowed church bears the only testimony to the village's existence, but is now surrounded by containers and the port. Lillo-Fort is another. A little haven of peace and quiet, in the middle of the port, with a small marina, a number of pubs, and the dockers who come to eat there on their breaks. And finally Doel, the last man standing, if you will. Four hundred years ago Doel was reclaimed from the river Scheldt. Today, its inhabitants have left, its pubs are closed but for the mill and people are fighting to keep it alive. Houses are being squatted, windows have been thrown in... A dock has been built nearby and another is in the works. We go there often for Sunday walks along the sea wall, and for a drink at the mill in the photo if only to show our support.

Across the North Sea is our other nuclear destination: Dungeness.


This is Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage, with the Dungeness power plant looming in the background. And what a treasure trove this place is: it is one of the stations along the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light railway, the 'Listening Ears' or acoustic mirrors in Denge as featured in Coast are nearby and of course the highly valuable nature reserve, in this large expanse of shingle.

Finally, this evening I settled down to some work with the TV buzzing in the background. Gradually I realized that I was watching/listening to a documentary on the Windscale fire, which resulted during a Wigner energy release procedure... It was considered the world's worst nuclear accident, until Chernobyl of course. The site is better known today as Sellafield, a subject of controversy due to the nuclear material processed there.

So what a nuclear day it was.


* I know I probably should follow this up with a remark on nuclear energy but today I simply wanted to focus on the other-worldliness of these places, which I think is what attracts us in the first place.

Statistics have their uses

02/12/2007

Every blog comes with its statistics.
One learns interesting things about one's readers, such as where they are reading from, what browser they use, etc. but also the searches that drive people to your blog.

I was somewhat amused to see that a lot of balletophiles and fans of Rudolph Nureyev found their way to my little nook of the world wide web. Other memorable searches include sex in tights (Nureyev-related, but not really), lesbian spankings (I kid thee not), spanking mommies, etc.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the Oprah fans for their interest in her goodie bags, which featured the lovely soaps from Claus, in Portugal.

And finally, I continue to welcome comments, the more the merrier. You readers are very quiet people.

Pomegranate icecream from Nigella Express


It's winter and I don't know what I was thinking. Except maybe, that it is also the season of all things red, especially that luscious fruit straight out of the Garden of Eden, known as the pomegranate.

In recent years, this fruit has become somewhat of a fad, with marketing muppets peddling it left and right in various guises... Great antioxidant juice, etc. My mother loves to eat it alongside baklava, which she buys from the Moroccan and Turkish bakers in our outpost of the city.

My beady eye had spied a box of glowing garnet pomegranates outside the Pakistani grocer's off our main drag. The huge globes bore a promise of delicious juice. I obviously continue to worship at the altar of that domestic goddess, Nigella. So when I found the recipe for pomegranate ice-cream with double cream, my palate took over, ignoring the warning sign in my head, which said 48% fat equals coronary and cholesterol.

Easy to make, this pale pink gelato is heaven in a bowl. So if you're looking for an easy dessert, then look no further. This is it.

Oh she was gorgeous - the American girl in Ruth Orkin's photo



In this week's gorgeousness, I propose a rather interesting girl in a rather arresting image. Ruth Orkin, an American photographer, took this photograph of a young American student named Jinx Allen in Florence, Italy in 1951. The photo was taken for an article in Cosmopolitan which discussed the problems women encountered when traveling alone... obviously the language, the currency, food and of course, dealing with men and their machismo abroad.

The photographer staged the scene to some extent, looking for a group of men lounging near or in Piazza della Repubblica. She claims she only spoke to the two men on the Vespa, asking them to tell the others not to look at the camera. The young subject walked the gauntlet not once, but twice!

And yet, although it was staged to some extent, there is something natural about this photo. The young, winsome girl, walking the gauntlet, her aggressors all smiling and laughing and her visible distress... There is a hint of a suffering yet beguiling Madonna. Or maybe I just had to much Asahi beer tonight.

Anyway, she redefined gorgeousness.

Ceci n'est pas une orange bleue - Let's stick together

No, not a reference to the movie about Tintin and the blue oranges. Nor have I been dipping too deep in Magritte's surrealist oeuvre. Although surrealism is the only label that applies to the situation in Belgium. Incredibly so, yet another tentative to broker a government coalition has failed. So the past 24 hours have been all about colours, about greens, and reds, and purples, and oranges, oranges that might be excluded, blues that will not govern with reds, greens who don't mesh well with yellows... A veritable rainbow fest!

All I know is that if there is a protest march, I'm heavily considering marching along. The revolution which created Belgium started with an opera (La Muette de Portici), and it looks as if Belgium will cease to exist as a result of a farce.

Meanwhile blogger Gerrit Six strikes again: after Belgium, he has now put Belgian citizenship on eBay.

While I was writing this, I was reminded of this rather appropriate song:


So maybe this is something we all need to think about, 175 days after our elections. Cross the linguistic border a little more, enjoy one another's culture a little more. Heck, if the Germans and the British could do it over Christmas during WWI in a football friendly in no-man's land, then why can't we?

Pondering a petition about the original English muffin

30/11/2007


Now, usually I don't get on my soapbox about anything. In fact, I can be downright lazy when I want to. But here, for the first time, I find myself startled into action for something... well, rather embarrassingly silly.

Soooo, what has raised my hackles? A few days ago I stumbled on a tidbit of information on the www; namely that a goddess was descending upon us... sorta. It so happens that Nigella Lawson was venturing from her safe UK haven to the continent, to Amsterdam to be more precise. So you will understand that a measure of excitement overtook me as I pondered the possibility of being in the same breathing space as this icon. Needless to say, my hopes were soon dashed as I realized that all the tickets had unfortunately been snapped up by a bunch of Dutch and American people, who had some kind of ESP information about this event.

After a brief mail exchange with a very kind PR person, and a number of calls to some not so kind people, I realized that it was not to be. A true Cinderella does not get to go the ball moment.

But Cinderella persevered and so will I. Thus, I have no choice now but to ponder a petition with the title: Bring Nigella to Belgium. What say you? Would there be any interest? After all, it's not because we are a small blot on the European landscape, that we should be overlooked. So come visit, all you celebrities, we'd so like to have you.

AND HERE'S THE LINK TO THE PETITION. SPREAD THE WORD!

Le current mood - so not the way I feel right now!

29/11/2007


As I sat here tapping away at yet another translation while a dull headache martyrizes and marrs my working efforts (my coffee buzz has not kicked in yet), I reflected on the current mood du jour. The video above most certainly does not represent how I feel today.
So onwards I bravely soldier, on the subject of 'Diamond Divas', an upcoming exhibition in one of Antwerp's numerous museums.

171 days of gloom and doom - whatever happened to Belgium, the surprise package of Europe?


One hundred and seventy-one days and one minute have passed since our national elections and yes, incredible as it may seem, our politicians still seem to think that they have all the time in the world to bicker about a new coalition.

The simple question of why a temporary government hasn't been put in place is so evident that one does not even dare ask it at this point.

No revolution has broken out. The people aren't screaming in the streets. No cars are being burnt (for that you have to head to the Paris banlieues these days, I am told, if it's fireworks and adrenalin that you are looking for).

In fact Belgians are going about their business as usual. Eating and drinking like true rabelaisians, preparing to spend money, etc. Incidentally, did you know that Belgium numbers 135,000 very fortunate dollar millionaires among its population? This puts it in twelfth place worldwide. Not bad for a country, whose impact in the EU was cited by MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit as being "zéro" today. Now I know that Belgium is particularly good at scoring "nul points" in the Eurovision song extravaganza, but Mr CB's comment is stretching it a tad, don't you think?

So is Belgium irrelevant? Would you miss it? Did you even know it existed?

Christmas beckons - part deux: turkey dilemmas

28/11/2007


Hark, the herald angels are already singing again... and soon they'll be brightening up our tree. Yes, alas, Christmas decorations have started to edge their way into my field of vision when I walk down Antwerp's streets. We are only one week away from the whole chasm opening up.

This year's tree is slowly but surely shaping up in my mind with kitschy white angel lights (see above), white feathers, popcorn and cranberries, more lights, and some transparent glass ornaments. Why rein yourself in when you can go completely overboard? I've come to understand that the only way to make 'the most wonderful time of the year' bearable is to basically join in. If you can't beat them, etc., what else can you do?

So whilst our turkey is being raised organically in some green outpost in old Eire, courtesy of Jack the butcher in Brussels, we are pondering recipes, all the while hampered by the fact that my sister is on a major diet for the rest of our and her life...

All I myself can think about, pathetically but greedily, is Boxing Day, as post-turkey-syndrome sets in. Turkey tonnato, turkey and cranberry sandwiches, turkey and pomegranate salad... Gasp. What if we didn't order a bird that's big enough to warrant sufficient leftovers for snacking?

Speaking of turkeys, the best Christmas card I ever sent out featured a turkey with a Groucho Marx nose, mustache and glasses, crouching with a bazooka behind a lantern post, with a poster that read: join the turkey liberation front.
This year's venture is a much more sobering one, an endorsement of Unicef.

Because at the end of the day, however whimsical this whole shenanigan might be, we should always spare not one, but many thoughts for all those who are less fortunate than us and who live in this 'seriously f***ed up world', as my fellow blogger Siegfried put it so succinctly.

Muzak!

27/11/2007

Sometimes it pays to read magazines, even if they are as inane as Vanity Fair.
How else would I have found out about Devendra Banhart and Feist?

Definitely worth listening to!

Two mommies? No spanking.

26/11/2007

On Friday my SO came home and told me that she'd had a chat with Frances's mum. We had been expecting this for quite a while, since Frances's mum happens to be English-speaking too (US or Canada, no idea at this point) and since she'd overheard us speaking English, and we'd noticed her too (one does tend to stand out in a pack of Flemish-speaking mothers).

So the discussion launched and at some point, she asked my SO: 'so who are you?' My SO answered: 'I'm V's mum'. At which point Frances's mum fell silent for a minute, and then said: 'who did you say?'

I should explain here that we both bring our little one to school, sometimes together, most days separately (one of us will go in, while the other is at work/home). Obviously Frances's mum is trying to figure out what's going on: who's the blond one, I thought the dark-haired one was the mum...

Likewise, on one of our first visits to our pediatrician's practice, the paed ended the visit with: 'are you the nanny', and then turned all kinds of interesting shades of red (I never noticed that colour does really rise up in your face when you turn red) as she realized her blunder. This is usually inevitably followed up with the 'I have a lesbian friend, my niece is a lesbian, I have other lesbian couples in the practice, etc.' although we have yet to be confronted with the 'I am a lesbian myself' answer.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see if Frances's mum has a lesbian in her closet ;-)

Continuing on the subject, after school, many parents and their children conglomerate in the play area near the school, conveniently located in front of a café, which serves delicious hot cocoa. Zoe's mum happened to drop by our table, and out of the blue said: 'It must be nice to be two mummies.' I was momentarily flummoxed by that statement, but she immediately followed it up with: 'You know, it's quite different with a man around the house. They have a different way of dealing with kids, they're less present, less hands-on.' So much for the 'new man': I guess he hasn't landed at Zoe's house yet.

Which brings me to my next parenting subject: the debate is currently raging in Belgium on whether pedagogical spanking should or should not be prohibited.

As could be expected, most parents feel that their behaviour should not be dictated by the law, whereas the lawmakers' objective is to basically try and reduce child abuse.

Personally, I think there's a long way from one spanking to child abuse (i.e. daily boxing of a child's ears, etc.). That said, I remember being shocked when one of our daycare caregivers slapped one of her twins. I knew that she would never slap my child, but the mere fact that my munchkin was subjected to seeing that and the look of complete non-understanding on V's little face as she witnessed that incident, is still an issue for me.

As a mother of a 3-year old, I can vouch for the fact that there are times when a child can literally drive you insane with indecision and tantrums. Toddlers are the original Vickie Pollard (yeah but, no but).
But I'm always reminded of the episode of Desperate Housewives in which Lynette berates Bree for slapping her children. Finally she has to admit that it did have an effect, using the threat of a spanking from Bree to keep her children in line, without actually spanking herself.

I think that there is a very fine line when it comes to physical discipline: my cousin firmly believes in it (he's a hardliner); but where does the spanking end, when does it become humiliating, when does it influence your memories for life, and does it achieve the desired result. Considering that most people find themselves having to spank again (i.e. it becomes a routine punishment), I have a feeling it doesn't. So we continue down our path of negotiate, explain, compromise, no spankings, and wing it. Because although there are a gazillion parenting manuals out there, the only one that will work is the one endorsed by both parents, which is invented as you go along, through practice.

So here's to a new week of parenting pitfalls.

oh she was gorgeous - the girl in Leon Spilliaert's painting

25/11/2007

Today's gorgeous girl is a bit out of the ordinary, as what makes her so gorgeous, is the fact that you can't see her face.

She is the girl running down the staircase in Léon Spilliaert's painting, Vertigo.



You can just make out her pale face behind her flowing veil.

Léon Spilliaert is a Belgian painter (early twentieth century). He has his own particular style, which he honed over time and is especially known for his works depicting Ostend, where he lived and worked (like James Ensor). Another one of his works, which is pretty amazing is La Baigneuse. The Belgian coast seems to have inspired a host of painters; another one of my favourites, who lived further along the coast is Paul Delvaux, whose pale nudes with their blond hair and grey eyes in night-time landscapes are quite captivating.

Le current mood - Proof that I'm sinking into deep 50s housewife mode

I baked cranberry muffins for breakfast this morning.

I have been humming 'The Lonely Goatherd' from the Sound of Music for two whole days now.

I depress myself.

Buttermilk chicken by Nigella Lawson

23/11/2007



The domestic demi-goddess has conquered another hurdle on the path to goddishness. I've spatchcocked my first chicken. It felt like playing 'operation' all over again... I'll admit to being squeamish about anything that involves cutting through bones, delving into innards, etc. As you can see, I would have failed miserably in the butcher's business.

But voilà: two spatchcocked chickens are now comfortably resting in their olive oil-garlic-maple syrup-maldon salt-crushed black peppercorns-buttermilk and rosemary marinade thanks to Nigella Lawson. Hopefully they will provide a bunch of hungry lunch guests with a good lunch in combination with some butternut squash and cinnamon mash (it's the light version of the Thanksgiving turkey fiesta, as Turkey Day is X-mas here and our poor turkey is still being raised somewhere in the green pastures of Ireland).

Will report back on the outcome of this extravaganza. But as for preparation, this is an easy one.

Update 1: have had to wash my hands three times already since I keep on smelling olive oil on my wrists, every time I lift my cup of coffee (did you know by the way that vanilla syrup is an excellent way to agrement a dull coffee?).

Update 2: they loved it. Only one drumstick left. The chooks were devoured in no time at all. The meat was moist and succulent, the skin fried to a perfect crisp; the buttermilk was in fact hardly discernible, while the maple came through, as well as the garlic, pepper and rosemary. Definitely a recommend here!

And while we're on the subject of dance...

22/11/2007

Here's Sylvie Guillem in William Forsythe's 'In the middle, somewhat elevated", one of my favourite ballets. Those breath-taking extensions, the arch of her foot, the emphasis in her movement, everything reminds me of why I love ballet so much.

Maurice Béjart 1927 - 2007



I was too young for Béjart's Sacre du Printemps, but I remember his 'Bolero' with the charismatic Jorge Donn. I should add that I am grateful for his contribution to modern dance: his Mudra school, established in Brussels, brought forth such choreographic luminaries as Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker., whose work I love and to a certain extent led me to dance (13 years of it). I think that Béjart contributed to making modern (and classic) dance a more accessible art for the general public. The rawer, more physical and even sensual style, as is evident from this clip, appealed to people, who did not always understand the magic of classical dance.
He recently completed his swansong, Tour du Monde en 80 minutes, which his company will be taking on tour.

Another day, another must-have: Claus Porto soaps

21/11/2007


No, I'm not one of Oprah's little minions. But I happened to catch the press release regarding her favourite things list (which she gives away every year during some monster show) and my eye happened to fall on the following item.

I am by no means a label junkie; what I am instead is much worse: a packaging junkie. And these soaps are classic when it comes to packaging.

Claus Porto was founded in 1887 by two Germans near Oporto. The soap-makers soon become renowned throughout Europe and the world, for their fine soaps. The factory is still family-owned, and run by the great grandson of Achilles de Brito, who continues with the great soap making traditions that were a matter of honour for the original founders.

Only the best shea butter and the finest fragrances from the south of France are used for these soaps, which include wild pansy, poppy, honeysuckle, grapefruit & fig, etc.

But the packaging, oh the packaging...

Because age is just a number really


Quick background: Eileen is my uncle's neighbour and over the years really has become part of the family. She's our unofficial gran really. And rocking 83 years.

Last week BBC Radio London's Breakfast Show had an item about riding pillion on a motorbike. Eventually Eileen called in, discussed motorbikes, the fact that she'd been riding pillion with her husband since 1945 and her desire to ride one again (since Vic died, she's not been on a bike except her son's but he lives in the US).

Well, one thing led to another, and yesterday Eileen finally got to ride a beautifully buffed bustin' black Harley... I wish I could have been there to see that first-hand.

So here's a little shout-out to Eileen, who is never in a bad mood, who is a wonderful spritely lady and who at 83, believes in experiencing something new every week. I know a lot of people who are lots younger, and who certainly don't have this frame of mind.

To read the story and listen to Eileen, click here.

Inane ramblings of a mothership

20/11/2007

Makka Pakka,
Akka Wakka,
Mikka Makka moo!

Makka Pakka,
Appa yakka,
Ikka akka, ooo

Hum dum,
Agga pang,
Ing, ang, ooo

Makka Pakka,
Akka wakka,
Mikka Makka moo!


(for those of you aren't in with the 3-year old in-crowd, point your mouse towards cbeebies, In the Night Garden. The only consolation that I have when being forced to watch this drivel is that my ears are at least cossetted by the dulcet tones of Derek Jacobi, who has kindly taken on the role of narrator).

Christmas wish list

It's that most wonderful time of the year when people start asking you about your wish list for Christmas. I usually have no idea what I want, so this year I'm going to put down every random item that hits my coffee-deprived brain and eventually pare it down to the one thing that I really, really want (ziggazigaaaah!).

- the Mitfords - letters, ed. Charlotte Moseley
- CD Rufus does Judy at Carnegie Hall
- Marcella Hazan cookbook
- a back massage
- Claus Porto soap
- Objekto table lamp
- good health in 2008
- to have another child
-

to be continued

Le current mood - the washing machine

The clip is self-explanatory, I think. Family surgery no. 2 has gone well. My mother is in slight pain, but will be able to leave the 'ospedale' tomorrow. Meanwhile, I venture onwards down the path to domestic demi-goddishness...

Mogilino - action should be taken NOW!

18/11/2007



If you haven't seen Kate Blewett's documentary on the children's 'care' home in Mogilino in Bulgaria, then I simply urge you to please launch a query in google now, or sign any petition pertaining to the subject.
The only question that arises is: WHY? I cannot even begin to express my rage or my tears.

http://www.tbact.org/

Someone has been kind enough to put this profoundly disturbing documentary online. You can find it under the word documentary. It is higly disturbing and thus not for the sensitive.

Oh she was gorgeous - Aishwarya Rai


OK, I'll confess. I don't really know that much about Aishwarya Rai beyond the fact that she is a L'Oreal model and I've only ever seen two of her movies. That said, I really enjoyed from Amritsar to LA or Bride and Prejudice as it is known over here. Oh wait, there was also the whole Richard Gere kiss incident, which led to warrants for her arrest and public outcries of obscenity all over India. I will refrain from commenting on the latter fact as I'm completely not au fait with India's local customs.

And so off to Wikipedia I went, where I learnt that the lovely Indian actress is younger than myself, is a former Miss World no less, an extremely popular actress in India, who married an even hotter Indian commodity, Abhishek Bachchan. The last phrase in the Wikipedia article was midly intriguing to say the least: "The actress is said to have married a peepal tree at Benaras, a banana tree at a Bangalore temple and a god’s idol in Ayodhya due to astrological reasons".

Her fans and Bollywood aficionados call her Ash.

I just call her hello gorgeous.

Hung up over being hung over - screamin' placemats

As the weekend draws to its close, we are both slowly edging out of the darkness known as a hangover of magnificent proportions. What have we learnt from this adventure? That La Grande Dame champagne, a good but killer Rueda and a bunch of Cosmopolitans will not mesh well together. On the upside, though, we had a great time on Friday evening... with some great friends, so I cannot complain too much. My mother kindly babysat our munchkin, plus smaller monster niece and when they started chortling the next morning and jumping up and down on our bed at 7.30 a.m. (ouch!) kindly stepped in and shooed them downstairs to the kitchen.

Saturday was a veggie day (with us two couch potatoes). Today we actually ventured outside and breathed in whole lungfuls of fresh air, even headed towards the playgarden. Two lattes, a brownie and a muffin later, we felt human again. We also found the kitschiest placemats ever for our kitchen table. Scream, if you will. We did, but with glee.

The moral of this story is: thou shalt not go out like Lindsey Lohan when thou aren't used to it because you will end up buying some pretty loud placemats as a result.

In other news, 35,000 Belgians actually thought it was worth coming out to march in favour of the nation that is known as Belgium. Well done, now can we have a government, pretty please?

In more other news, the first of the series of surgeries in my family (it's surgery season, watch out) took place last Wednesday. My sister will be released from the hospital as my mother enters it (the same hospital, but to treat her Dupuytren syndrome, which is a nasty disease of the hand).

And so another week awaits us. Blah.

Le current mood - It's a beautiful day...

16/11/2007


The sun is shining outside, I'm slowly beginning to come to terms with Windows Vista and Office 2007 (and oh, the swear words that have emanated from my mouth in the past days), it's my so's birthday today (yay!), my daughter leapt into her classroom this morning merrily chatting with her little boyfriend, parents smiled at me, I didn't get a parking ticket and when I returned home there was still some hot coffee left.

All is well in the land of Lula de Montes.

Home for the holidays - part 1

14/11/2007

Every year the debate starts raging around this time...

Should Sinterklaas (the Low Countries' equivalent of Santa Claus) be allowed three weeks of business unaffected by the whole Christmas hoopla... Do we want to already be confronted with the horror of Jingle Bells and Rudolph the red-nosed Rendeer (too much schnaps probably) by the end of November?

You will note that they introduced the Halloween concept (brilliant marketing if you ask me) to bridge the holiday gap. Just so we can spend some more money on some ridiculous decorations.
Even though the kitsch factor reaches unseen, unparalleled heights every year again. Heck, even I have already invested in some white feathers and am hunting for some transparent Christmas ornaments as I write this.

Having a child means you are obliged to go along with this whole commercial rigmarole. Gone are the days when you used to be happy just to have a tree, let alone some decorations and even one gift under the tree.

So without further ado, here is some eye candy for you to get you in that 'fantasmagorical' Christmas spirit... only in America... *sighing and shaking head in disbelief*

Quick fix - carrots/oranges/sesame seeds with salmon

Easy and tasty fix, especially now that autumn is upon us.

Ingredients:
salmon fillets, skin left on (marinade according to taste, my so does a marvellous soy marinade, which leaves me asking for more), fry to your liking

carrots (300g or more)
ginger (5cm, shredded)
1/2 oranges
3 tbsps of cooking oil
3 tbsps of water
sesame seeds
1 tbsp of honey

- scrape the carrots and slice thinly at an angle
- heat up oil in a wok, add ginger, let simmer until the ginger aroma fills the kitchen
- add carrots, cook for 2 minutes with the ginger
- add water, let cook for 5/10 minutes
- slice oranges and add to wok
- add honey
- roast sesame seeds and sprinkle over the carrots and oranges

Such a sunny and colourful meal for those dark autumn days.

The Honourable Rebel aka Decca Mitford Treuhaft

13/11/2007


I've been something of a Mitford 'fan' for a good five years now. I can't remember actually when I actually became interested in them. At any rate, they were a fierce bunch., which included the one who tried to do herself in when Britain declared war on Germany, the communist firebrand who launched an inquisition against the racketeering funeral industry, the beauteous Diana whose destiny is forever linked to that of Oswald Mosley, the (Dowager) Duchess (of Devonshire) whose granddaughter is fashion model Stella Tennant, the quiet one who might have been a 'you know what bian' (Decca's words) and the brilliant but tough as nails authoress Nancy Mitford (Lady Redesdale famously once pointed out that Nancy’s letters “usually contain a skillfully hidden dagger pointed straight at one’s heart").

After reading the book about this sisterhood, I landed on a book by Peter Sussman who has been kind enough to edit the youngest Mitford's letters to such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Katherine Graham, numerous Presidents of the US and even Hilary Clinton, as well as to her family members.

With two of England's most notorious anti-Semites as her sisters as well as the highly acerbic Nancy (Love in a cold Climate), it goes without saying that one would have to be quite a wit to survive in such a household. And so Decca Mitford did... starting a 'going away' account very early on in life, developing her own secret language with her sister (Boudledidge), eloping with her cousin Esmond Romilly to war-torn Spain in the 1930s, and taking on a leading role in the civil rights and Communist movement in the US. The character of this larger-than-life red sheep of a family that was related to Winston Churchill shines through in several of her letters.

Needless to say, I'm enjoying all the Mitfordiana, and look forward to discovering the polyphony of all six of the sisters, in their letters edited by Charlotte Mosley.
In the meantime, I leave you this Decca quote, which sums up her personality to a tee:
"You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty."

Belgium on the brink of civil war!

And so we are at 156 days without a government, with the negotiating parties in gridlock. Is Belgium on the verge of a civil war? If so, this is surely what the battlefield would look like. In fact, I think this is what our pols look like at the moment. A bunch of silly potatoes...

Le current mood - le jazz hot

12/11/2007



Yes, there's a jazz singer inside of me just waiting to belt out a 30s production number...
I think I'll just go tame that urge with a cup of hot cocoa now, shall I?

Oh, she was gorgeous - Georgia O'Keeffe and others

11/11/2007

Sooooo, another week, another beauty for you and me to feast your eyes on.

This week I found myself thinking a lot about beauty, after visiting the exhibition 'British Vision' in Ghent's Museum of Fine Arts and worshipping at the altar of 'Beata Beatrix' by D.G. Rossetti again.


The exhibition focuses on imagination and observation in British art. Somehow my mind drifted back to Ruskin and his idea that art is not a matter of taste, but that it involves the whole person. Likewise, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Who determines what is beautiful? These days beauty seems to be so highly charged and determined by what we see on TV and in the media, that I felt a breath of fresh air was needed.

So today, let's focus on atypical beauty, but still gorgeousness incarnate.

I thought of Georgia O'Keeffe first.

Famously fixed in time in all the freshness of her youth by Stieglitz, I find that her face is all the more stunning as she gets older. The wrinkles, the calmness, her hands: they tell a more interesting tale, of New Mexico, of artistic discovery and exploration and of a fascinating inner life. I love her paintings too.

Then my mind drifted on to another artist: sculptor Louise Bourgeois.



Again, a redefinition of beauty. What's not to like? She's obviously unique, a sense of harmony and balance emanates from this photo and yet her face does not correspond with today's canons of beauty.

And finally, I was reminded of this photo from a photo book by Richard Avedon.



What a difference between 'Dovima and the Elephants' (see Avedon website) and the girl with the freckles from his 'In the American West'. And yet, both are beautiful: Dovima's painted, almost kabuki-like face and the young girl's face painted with freckles.

So you see, the definition of beauty can be extremely wide-ranging... Everyone has their personal opinion of what makes a beautiful woman. In my opinion, beauty equates personality equates those unique qualities that shine through and that render a woman more than beautiful. Simply irresistible.

Surgery central

09/11/2007

Far be it from me to bother you with inane details pertaining to my life but sometimes I seem to be able to wrap my mind better around something when I actually write it out.

For some time now, my beloved so has been acting like a fire-spewing creature straight out of the dragon's den. No, menopause has not hit with a vengeance yet, thankfully. Unfortunately she too has had to hop on to the surgery bandwagon and will have to undergo some pretty invasive muck-raking surgery in the spring, followed by 8 weeks or more of recovery.

I am trying to ignore the ramifications of this decision. However, at the end of the day I find myself being terrified by the fact that somebody who is basically a paragon of health (well, sorta) will be knocked out for such a long time. I don't like illness, I hate hospitals and I despise medical practitioners for their lack of communication skills. So, here is our bump on the road: I am terrified of the idea that she is putting her life into someone else's hands (the dreadest anaesthesia), horrified at the idea that they might find something else while they're in there, and I think of the recovery period as filled with gloom, doom and a lot of pain. I suppose that by now, you might have gleaned that I'm the half-empty glass type of personality.

So this is my current mood:


And for those who like men in drag, and a more contemporary voice singing the same lyrics:

Simply must-have no. 4 - Jensen/Jacobsen cutlery

To some of you, I must sound like some relentless coveting design junkie. The contrary is true. I simply try to find the best combination of form and function, so that my life becomes more comfortable.

This brings me to my next project: finding a set of decent cutlery. My plight became all the more obvious this week as I will be hosting the whole family on Sunday for my gran's birthday. Not only did I not have sufficient cutlery to go around (well, we have 18 people coming over) but some of it looked rather shabby (gasp!). Having searched high and low, I finally caved in and bought one of those easy Ikea sets (thus adding another different set to our current mish-mash of silver and stainless steel).

I do however passionately long, nay crave the beautiful Arne Jacobsen-designed cutlery by Georg Jensen. There is of course the slight drawback that every item costs approx. 25-65 USD (thus if one needed a full set for say, 12 diners, one would be spending the equivalent of the annual budget of a large African village, while being able to buy them a whole herd of cattle too).

But look at the sheer splendour of it. Matte stainless steel, a fork that still looks contemporary even after almost 50 years. And although the Philistines at the hotel for which Jacobsen originally developed the cutlery stopped using the cutlery shortly after its introduction (diner to waiter: young man, now bring me a 'real' fork instead of this toothpick!), it is still being lovingly manufactured today.

Of course, I could splurge on the salad set or the futuristic pie server, but this would mean that we would have to relinquish Nigella's salad hands, which we cherish so lovingly because of their cuteness.

Thus, this is a must-have, but which can only be justified by the purchase of a winning lottery ticket. Alas, no such luck, I think.

150 days and counting - the end of Belgium as you know it?

07/11/2007

OK, I'll level with you all. I've sort of been steering clear of the subject of Belgium and the current political crisis.

For those of you who are blissfully unaware of what is going on, let me start by saying that our elections were exactly 150 days ago. To this day, the pols are still in talks to put together a coalition that will work.

So quick recap while respecting the KISS principle: Belgium straddles the boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe. This is not an easy combo, with the Flemish (who speak Dutch) and the Walloons (who speak French) and some Germans (thrown in for good measure to spice up the cocktail) all attempting to co-habit peacefully. Since 1830 they have all managed to do so more or less successfully, with the odd tiff here and there (I won't go in to the fact that for the first 100 years of Belgium's existence the Flemish were treated as second-rate citizens and that many Flemish were in cahoots with the Germans during WWII).

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the state was regionalized, which led to a federation with federal, regional and community governments. A perfect example of what Belgium is actually famous for: the compromise (and beer, and French fries, the saxophone, Magritte, etc. but that again is another matter).

Having read the above, you will undoubtedly have guessed the consequences of this interesting cocktail. Some five months ago we all did our duty and drifted off to the polling stations one Sunday morning to vote. The elections resulted in a victory for the Christian-Democrats and the Liberals, and a rather devastating defeat for the Socialist Party. (I'm leaving out the Nationalists, because they disgust me anyway). However, it being Belgium, we have Dutch-speaking CD's and Libs, and French-speaking CD's and Libs. And unfortunately they are not seeing eye to eye when it comes to the federation as it stands.

There are mainly two issues:
- the fate of Francophone voters, who live just outside of Brussels, in areas that are in Flemish territory but that have a significant French-speaking population, and who are allowed to vote for French-speaking politicians during their election. It would seem that this little set-up is illegal and thus the Flemish want to abolish it, which they did today (triggering a walk-out by the French MPs after the vote in the parliamentary committee)
- the Flemish want more powers for the regions, in part to do away with the flow of Flemish tax revenue to the poorer Walloon region.

So this whole charade drags on. Those living in Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde and the Brussels-Capital region might disagree with me when I say, oh, for f***'s sake, just get over it? But in view of the rising petrol prices, the cost of living, and a cabinet that cannot take any major decisions, as well as a country that is basically teetering on the edge of a giant abyss, I can only shake my head in disbelief. Belgium, and in this I have to agree with Belgian blogger Gerrit Six, the man who tried to sell Belgium on e-Bay, has so much to offer. I love this country, I love its people (well, most of them), its customs, its food, its beers, its architecture, its art and its museums, its cathedrals, its polders, the Atomium (!), and so much more...

So what do you think, boys and girls (I'm talking to you, Joëlle), can we just get on with it now?

* a word of thanks goes out to Raf Casert of AP, who lives in the affected region, and who also managed to explain it in a KISS way.

Oh she was gorgeous!*: Marcia Cross

04/11/2007


OK, given the ravage on Cape Cod, Massachusetts this weekend, I thought I might do something good for the Bay State ;-) (Go Sox! and I hope power's up and running again, Mom-in-law, and that your move went well).

Today we give a shoutout to that phenomenal redhead, Marcia Cross, who is from Marlborough, MA . Most avid TV viewers will probably be familiar with her character Bree van de Kamp from Desperate Housewives (not her alter ego, I might stress, but rather a Martha Stewart on steroids). Those who are a little older, like myself, will probably remember the scene from Melrose Place in which Kimberly Shaw rips off that wig.



Then of course, there was the juicy gossip/rumour about presumed lesbianism, which started on Datalounge and took the world by storm.

Anyhow, I'm happy to report that the divine Ms Cross is since married to some stockbroker type and the mother of twin girls, Savannah and Eden.

And may I take this opportunity to express my hope that many more episodes of Desperate Housewives will follow... In the meantime, I will feast my eyes on that pumpkin mane and those wonderful curves for a while longer.

Simply must-have - n°3 / Concentrate - design for education

31/10/2007

While watching Dragon's Den last night, my so and I almost fell over when we looked at the offerings of Mark Champkin of Concentrate.

To most people, especially Americans, what follows next, is going to probably be cause for laughter, but we have been racking our brains on how to keep the little one's lunchbox (especially the sliced meats inside) cool until lunch. Searches for a lunchbox with cooler in Belgian stores so far led to zip results. Nada, nothing, niente available.

So you will understand our glee at Mark's presentation and the fact that you can purchase online.

The neoprene cooler bag is a godsend. And although I like the actual lunchbox itself (which emphasizes fruit consumption), I am happy to report that the school regulations are quite strict at our kindergarten. Parents are requested to only provide fruit or a dry biscuit (i.e. no chocolate biscuits etc.) and fruit juices for children. There are no vending machines in the school itself and soft drinks are not allowed during lunch. Of course, what goes on outside the school, is one's own choice... but I hope that this approach will in the long term result in a healthy eating pattern.

Back to the subject at hand: this young entrepreneur has recently launched his products at John Lewis (major UK department store) and hopefully will soon take the rest of the world by storm.
He sure is a hit in this family. Kudos to Peter Jones for taking the leap and investing in his business. Pasta salads for lunch, finally!

Mombian? Dumbledore is gay? Gaybours?

30/10/2007

I had a good laugh this morning. I had already heard of such interesting terms as guestbian, hasbian, but now apparently someone has coined the term mombian.
Love it, although I wouldn't think of myself in those terms.

I was reminded of my situation a little yesterday while watching the latest episode of Desperate Housewives and their gaybours (language is such a versatile and plastic thing). Ironically enough, when we found our house, we were reassured by its former owners that we certainly wouldn't feel out of place, given that there already were two other (male) gay couples on the street.
What a gay place to be. And of course, we've all been properly and duly assimilated.

On the subject of assimilation, my 3-year old is currently dealing with the mysteries of 'dad'. The other children in her school all have standard mum/dad families, and of course the lack of men (high male mortality rate in this family + inlaws live abroad) is glaringly obvious. As she pays more attention to books and sees kids being dropped off by their dads, she is curious but realizes that she herself has two mums (although not the Heather has two mommies' variety).


A good book for kids that age, I think, is Emma and Meesha My Boy by Kaitlyn Considine, although our little one would argue that the book is about us (since the characters resemble us and we also have a cat).

And finally speaking of gay characters and children, what do we make of the news that Albus Dumbledore, the esteemed head of Hogwarts School of Magic, was gay? I think the jury's still out on that one in this household.

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